Judith McLean – QPAC Scholar In Residence

Interview with professor Judith McLean, the inaugural Chair in Arts Education and QPAC’s Scholar in Residence

In May 2014 QPAC and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) announced a partnership to jointly establish the position of Chair in Arts Education. The inaugural Chair is professor Judith McLean, currently QPAC’s Scholar in Residence.

Professor McLean’s role is to link policy, art making and teaching and support both QPAC and QUT in bridging complex thought and practical application. Putting ideas into practice.

Professor McLean’s current research centres on brain based learning and its relationship with the arts with a particular focus on how cultural institutions like QPAC can collaborate with audiences to heighten the significance of art in everyday life. 

“Professor McLean is an inspiring leader and a national voice in the field of arts education. As QUT’s Chair in Arts Education and QPAC’s inaugural Scholar in Residence she will work across both institutions to forge stronger links between the academic arena and industry.” QPAC and QUT

What do you want to achieve as Chair in Arts Education?

I want to play a part in delivering QPAC’s vision that we live in ‘a world where the performing arts matter to everyone’. We know that audiences come to live arts experiences with different levels of exposure and understanding. The same piece of art can be simultaneously a work of art, a piece of entertainment or just plain boring! It is the internal skills of the viewer and knowledge they bring to the performance that determines how they experience it. Like sport, or indeed anything that requires specialised technique, the more you understand the nuances of what you are engaged with, the more enjoyment you gain from it. My job is to help/ guide/educate/illuminate QPAC staff, audiences and the general public to be curious to know more and therefore appreciate and enjoy art more.

How have you seen performing arts evolve over the past decade?

The performing arts are changing incredibly fast as everything is in 21stcentury life. We are in the middle of a connection revolution and, in arts education, people want to learn and be much more hands on and involved in making their own art as well as sharing it with the world via YouTube and other forums.

What are the trends you’re seeing worldwide in performing arts and their role in society?

The growth in business, NGOs and communities to embrace the arts as a tool to have bigger more inclusive conversations about what, why and how we can have richer conversations about life’s purpose. This is already happening: DYI arts experiences, using the arts to build the participative citizen and strengthen our democracies.

Were your parents an influence on your career?

My parents were very influential in my life. My father taught me to sail, which was fabulous leadership training as a young child. To be in the middle of the ocean in a small boat that you were responsible for keeping afloat meant you learnt early to stand by the decisions you made, as you only had yourself to blame if things went wrong. It was scary but exhilarating! We lived in a small country town (Bowen), and my mother fostered my artistic side by sending me as a very young child to private speech-and-drama lessons as well as driving me all over the state to enter eisteddfods – which was fine, but she also had five other kids to look after.

What has been a defining moment in your life?

Learning to forgive and understand that the wound is the gift!

What three people have influenced you professionally?

I wouldn’t name individual people, but I would say I respect people, even if I don’t agree with them, who join in and make things happen. It’s easy to be passive and complain about things without contributing. I admire anyone who takes a stand and contributes.

What are your words of wisdom?

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Interviewed by Mikki Brammer

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